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Friday December 9th

Sexual assault awareness takes the stage

	<p>Laurie Graham, programs director at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, explains the forum for sexual assault victims on Tuesday night.</p>
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Laurie Graham, programs director at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, explains the forum for sexual assault victims on Tuesday night.

This article previously stated that the Rape Crisis Center saw a $470,000 budget this year, but that number was actually for last fiscal year.

Some spoke English, others Spanish. Some were angry, while others cried. But all of the women who took to the Seymour Center’s stage Tuesday night had something in common.

Their lives — or the lives of the women they spoke for — have been forever altered by sexual assault.

The open forum marked the 10th year of the Orange County Rape Crisis Center’s “Shout Out! Against Sexual Violence” event.

The evening featured artists, poets and speakers who shared their stories of sexual violence with an audience of about 30.

“People are coming together to tell their stories about sexual abuse,” said Shamecca Bryant, the center’s executive director. “We hope that people will keep telling and inspiring others.”

This year’s forum marked a major step in the crisis center’s evolution.

For the first time, the event featured both English and Spanish-language presentations, and the event program had translated transcripts of their pieces.

Alyson Culin, development and marketing director, said the change came after the center saw a huge uptick in Spanish-speaking clientele.

“We had a 74 percent increase in Spanish outreach this fiscal year,” she said. “We have a ton more Spanish clients.”

Culin also said that in the past, those who made artwork simply presented their creations.

But this year, attendees lingered over the colorful paintings depicting religious themes and images of female bodies that decorated the auditorium.

Laurie Graham, the center’s newly appointed programs director, told the crowd that the gallery and another feature — a clothesline draped with shirts that displayed statements about sexual assault — sent visual messages decrying the violence.

And Bryant said she is excited about that outspokenness. She said too often, people view sexual assault with shame, and awareness is the way to end that.

The center is moving forward with their mission to get the word out. Last year, it saw an 8 percent increase in clients, and projections suggest that it will see an even larger growth this fiscal year.

Of last year’s clients, 51 percent were victims of rape or sexual assault. Thirteen percent were victims seeking support for childhood sexual abuse.

But even as demand for its services increased, the center has seen a decrease in funding — in the past, budgets have hovered around $550,000, but last year the center saw just more than $470,000.

“Funding is always a concern for small nonprofits like ours,” Graham said.

Despite the cuts, the center is still hoping to expand services.

They will hold more outreach events to recognize sexual assault awareness month, including a parent’s summit at El Centro Hispano on Saturday. The event will focus on teaching kids to develop healthy relationships.

The center will also have an end-of-month celebration April 25 at the Crunkleton.

Contact the City Editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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